On June 15, the state will fully reopen after having been closed for much of the past year. So, what can employers and their workers expect when this happens?
The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or Cal/OSHA, has set guidelines known as the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards that all employers must follow.
The standards set out in detail what businesses need to do to prevent COVID-19 and how to deal with an infection or outbreak in their workplaces. This includes social distancing measures.
“All employees shall be separated from other persons by at least 6 feet, except where an employer can demonstrate that 6 feet of separation is not possible, and except for momentary exposure while persons are in movement,” the standards said.
It then goes on to describe ways in which employees can be separated, including telework or other remote work arrangements; reducing the number of persons in an area at one time, including visitors; and staggered arrival, departure, work and break times.
The Blueprint for a Safer Economy is the program started by the state last year to combat the virus. It will end on June 15, and the state will allow all industries to reopen with usual operations.
“Common-sense health measures such as masking will remain across the state,” a memo on the transition posted at the state Department of Public Health said. “Testing or vaccination verification requirements will remain in relevant settings.”
Note that these guidelines were proposed as of press time. However, the California Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board and other government agencies could revisit and revise the rules at any time before or after June 15.
Following state protocols
David Fontain is the founder and chief executive of Foresight, a San Francisco insurance tech firm that currently underwrites in California and seven other states.
His company primarily works with businesses in the agricultural, manufacturing and construction industries, including many in Los Angeles County.
Asked if he thought the state would reopen on June 15 and do away with the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, Fontain said yes, but added, “You have to go by what the most recent news is.”
L.A. County followed tighter restrictions than the state when it came to COVID-19 protocols, but that was only because of the higher density and thus a higher number of confirmed cases and deaths from the virus, he said.
“It was only just a few months ago, back in February, that L.A. County was reporting a high daily death count. It certainly makes sense for why they had more restrictive rules compared to other cities around the country,” Fontain said.
The County Public Health Department has stated that as the pandemic winds down, it will follow state guidelines rather than stricter rules.
As of May 16, the department had said that out of people 16 years and older, 61 percent had received at least one vaccination shot and that 47 percent were fully vaccinated, he added.
“That is a high concentration of vaccinations,” Fontain continued. “It is looking like (the virus) is on the decline, so that is good news.”
Of the industries his company serves with insurance products, agriculture suffered the worst under COVID-19. Construction and manufacturing did better. For the former, it is residential construction that heated up during the pandemic as people who were working from home decided to renovate, Fontain said.
For manufacturing, it depended on the industry they served on how well they did during the past year. For those making products used in construction, such as materials, it was a good time to be in business, he added.
As for changes, construction and agriculture won’t be seeing too much, he continued.
“They are no stranger to social distancing,” Fontain said.
The same with manufacturing where a lot of workers are used to wearing PPE (personal protection equipment) such as masks, goggles, face shields and gloves.
“The PPE is already ingrained in the culture of those businesses,” he said. “So I would say that not a lot is going to change a lot for the businesses in these industries.”
The one piece of information that Fontain wants to get out is that employers are still accountable for their workers if they get sick with coronavirus.
“Even though they are relaxing restrictions, it doesn’t mean they are off the hook,” Fontain said. “Employers are still liable under Cal/OSHA if they don’t adequately prevent the stop of COVID cases.”
It is in the employer’s interest to take full responsibility for the work environment, the space, ventilation and the protective equipment that workers are provided with and mandated to wear, he added.
“If you are a smart business owner, it makes sense to follow these factors,” Fontain said.